“A Great Time For Young Filmmakers” Eleanor Gaver, writer director

A conversation with writer director Eleanor Gaver

I met Eleanor Gaver in a writing workshop in L.A. and we kept in touch after she and her husband and daughter moved to NYC. I knew she had recently finished a film and knowing how hard it is to get financing I asked her how Here One Minute was able to go from script to screen.

Eleanor: I got so tired of writing scripts and waiting years to get the money to make the film; I was so tired of hearing, ‘No.’ I decided to make a film regardless. I wrote the script for Here One Minute, and found four acting students from the Stella Adler Studio who were very young and enthusiastic. But I soon realized they had no experience. And to work around this I realized I needed to let them play close to who they were. So we began to workshop my script. We improvised scenes, wrote, rehearsed, rewrote and rehearsed and shaped the story’s characters about who these young actors were as people. Basically they wrote their parts and we got the script to sound like them. You might say Cassavetes style.

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The kids who played the graffiti boys were kids my daughter knew from high school and kids pretty much on the street. When we decided we were going to have these graffiti kids in the film we began going to the neighborhood parties and filming them so they’d get used to me. And we figured out which ones would be best for our film. It was all part of the rehearsal process. We never knew if they were going to show up. One of the kids was arrested and we had to rewrite his part. Another one said that making a movie changed his life and he went into rehab.

It took us four years to make Here One Minute . We started with Kickstarter but their all or nothing policy made us move over to Indiegogo. We raised $17,000 on Indiegogo which paid for the initial three week shoot and a rough edit. The producer then screened it for an investor, who paid for an additional week of shooting and the post-production. Only the DP (director of photography), his crew, the sound person and the editor were paid. Everyone else worked for free. Crowd funding is very hard beyond family and friends. I was just so thankful that all my actors, volunteers, stuck with us for the four years it took us to make the film.

Our first distributor went out of business and then Gravitas Ventures came in as our distributor. We cut the trailer and put it on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook.The premiere, the first time screened, was at Dances With Film in 2015 in L.A at the Chinese Mann Theatre. That was a nerve-wracking experience for me. I kept looking at the edges of the frame of the big screen. I was so afraid I’d missed something on the film while working on my computer.

It’s a good time for young filmmakers because you can do it all in your computer. It’s all digital and you don’t need a print. It’s just getting the people to see it and grow your audience beyond the people you know. Here One Minute will play in different places—video on demand, streaming, iTunes and Google Play.

And now we’re working on a web series, Tripolar, that will be about what was it like to make a movie; a series about some drug-addled women who decide to make a movie.

Eleanor Gaver
Eleanor Gaver

Eleanor Gaver: I studied film at N.Y.U. MY first feature, Hearts and Diamonds, was bought by Prism Entertainment, which then promptly went out of business and the film was never released. Next I made a biker picture, Slipping Into Darkness, for M.C.E.G. Entertainment in exchange for them funding my next film, but then they went out of business. I directed some music videos and episodes of Tales of the Darkside. Then, I made Life in the Fast Lane with Fairuza Balk, Noah Taylor, Tea Leoni and Patrick Dempsey. Fox Searchlight optioned one of my scripts and asked me to make a film for their Searchlab, so I made Buddy’s Big Break. And now, Here One Minute.

“Here One Minute, set in New York City’s East Village, this timeless coming of age story highlights many issues facing today’s youth. This gritty indie film depicts graffiti, sex and substance abuse in a way that recalls cult classic, Kids. Larry Clark’s recent comments surrounding the Kids’ 20th anniversary that “Kids could not be made today” are challenged by Here One Minute, which centers around a group of kid’s search for answers surrounding a night that ends in tragedy.

Shot on the streets of New York with a shoe-string budget, it was important to Eleanor Gaver (Writer, Director) to capture the heart and soul of the city. Producer Schuyler Quinn felt it was a natural fit to cast up-and-coming actors alongside New York natives. The authenticity of the casting is immediately evident by their unique slang and inherent swagger. “We show sex, drugs, the streets of our city, but we aren’t trying to glamorize the lifestyle…this is just an honest tale about what it’s like, growing up in New York City right now.”

–by Trudy Hale
Feature image from Here One Minute. Copyright Gravitas Ventures.

iTunes link for Here One Minute: http://apple.co/1QUaSGs

Watch the trailer for Here One Minute:

Amazing But True! Confessions from a Ghost (Writer): Diane Whitbeck

Some writers spend years honing their craft until their work unfolds with the effortless grace of an Olympic figure skater. It’s the kind of ease and proficiency that looks impossible—belying countless hours of rehearsal—and can make an audience gasp. Diane Whitbeck is such a writer. A prolific freelance writer and published author, she has ghostwritten fourteen books in just two and a half years and has also authored six books under her own name. I interviewed Whitbeck about her writing career, and though I had only a short list of questions, she offered me a feature-length odyssey from the world of freelance writing.

First, I asked Whitbeck to share her definition of ghostwriting, and she explained that it involves “taking your ego out of it… Although your thoughts and your creativity, and your actual work goes down on the paper, you have to remember it’s not going to be yours—it’s not going to belong to you.” Ghostwriters typically sign a non-disclosure contract and are not entitled to royalties from a published work. Instead, they receive their pay up front and let their clients take full credit for the writing.

search for paleo diet on Internet
Amazon search by Spriggan Radfae

Whitbeck’s freelance writing, mostly non-fiction work, covers a broad range including persuasive letters, technical manuals, copy for websites, and legal and scientific writing in addition to full-length books. Surprisingly, her latest ghostwriting job was a paranormal romance novel. When I asked why the majority of her work is non-fiction writing, she explained that people “have an idea or they know a topic is popular, but they don’t know how to do the research, they don’t have the patience for the research… and they don’t know how to write.” When Whitbeck mentioned that she had ghostwritten a book about the popular paleo diet, I was itching to ask her which one. I searched for “paleo diet” on Amazon.com and found a staggering 5,967 paperback books on their website. Stunned, I could only wonder what percentage of those had been ghostwritten.

I was also curious about how flexible a freelance writer has to be to satisfy such a broad range of clients, so I asked Whitbeck if she has to create a specific voice or style for each client. She answered simply, “Yes.” then elaborated, “I have my own style—it’s engaging, it’s informal. I like to interact with my audience even in a non-fiction way. With fiction, it’s definitely more stylized because [clients] will tell you ‘I want this kind of tone. I want this sort of approach. I want you to sound like an expert…’ and some of them have no idea how they want it written.” She also adjusts her tone and style to address a particular audience, and though it’s no surprise to hear she’s written at a sixth grade level—a popular, casual style suitable for blogs—I was impressed to learn that her written work has been submitted to the Secretary of Defense and even the President of the United States.

If you’ve never freelanced as a writer, then you might wonder how Whitbeck finds her work. And how can she promote herself as a qualified writer if a contract prevents her from mentioning her books by name? Actually, freelance writers have a variety of platforms to find leads for work, and websites like Freelancer, Upwork and Fiverr provide job listings of all types. Professional writers can look at available job opportunities and bid on a listed writing contract. Meanwhile, ghostwriting is a subset of freelance writing, and some jobs can come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Whitbeck writes books for “the lifelong dreamers. They’ve always wanted to write a book…but they don’t know how.”

Whitbeck, an assiduous worker, has built an impressive profile on Upwork.com, and though she can’t mention some of her writing by title, she has an impressive portfolio and offers services like proofreading, editing, and HR management consulting. Upwork utilizes a worker rating system powered by client feedback, so with a solid rating and the ability to turn out a written work quickly, a good writer will attract job offers. Will you get rich quick from freelance writing? Not likely. Whitbeck says the standard rate is roughly a penny a word, but since the publication of her first ghostwritten book, she now earns four or five cents a word on average.

Another important skill for a freelance writer is the ability to create a solid contract. “I always insist on having a contract—with every client—and that very carefully spells out the conditions that we’re operating under.” Whitbeck said. She explained the need to define particulars, and her comprehensive contracts cover everything from expected performance and lack of performance to breach of contract and penalties for a breach. That’s good advice for anybody that is freelance writing. Whitbeck added, “You have to protect yourself because you’re in business for yourself…you’re an independent contractor.” In the rare event that a client breaches or fails to pay, her contract ensures ownership of the written work fully returns to her and that she still receives a percentage of her pay based on a daily work rate.

After learning so much about Whitbeck’s ghostwriting, what I really wanted to know was: why choose to ghostwrite in the first place? Why not self publish? Whitbeck told me, “Partially, it’s due to availability. There are a lot of people out there that want ghostwriters and are willing to pay you.” Then from a more emotional place, she confided, “I had a fundamental lack of confidence in myself… going back to when I was 12 and decided I really did want to be a writer. By not having to put my name on it, I was able to experiment and see: could I really do it?”

Freelance writing and ghostwriting can provide steady income for professional writers, and the volume of contracts available promises a writer that she can occasionally find an enjoyable topic. Sometimes a contract even challenges a writer and leads to an unexpected outcome. On one such occasion, Whitbeck begrudgingly accepted a job for a book about women’s style and fashion. “Look at me.” She muttered during our interview. “I am the least stylish person on the planet.” I asked if all the research into women’s style and grooming had changed her personal habits. “Not a damn bit.” she replied.

Still, her client loved the book, and Whitbeck explained, “He said it was the best book he’d ever read. He didn’t change a single word.” That’s a high compliment, and surely that outcome feels rewarding in itself; but Whitbeck also enjoys helping people fulfill their lifelong goals. She added, “I write so much that to me it’s like second nature and… there are people out there that can’t write—and who really need help.” So she continues to write books for those “lifelong dreamers”.

In her own words, “They’ve always wanted to write a book…but they don’t know how.”


Diane Whitbeck
Diane Whitbeck spent 25 years as a Logistics Management executive. In conjunction with that career, she has been a Personal Coach, helping clients solve life problems. In her retirement, she has devoted herself to being a freelance writer and published author. She currently has 6 books in the self-development arena on Amazon. She has been the ghostwriter for 14 additional books. Diane is also a prolific poet, and performs her poetry in clubs and cafés in the Richmond, VA area, sometimes backed by a trio of jazz musicians.

By Spriggan Radfae

feature image by Brittany Stevens. CC license, image cropped, text obscured.

Looking for the Light: Fax Ayres’ Photographs

 

By Fax Ayres

 

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My Mother’s Nikkormat

 

My mother gave me her old Nikkormat camera when I was 13 years old. She’d spotted my interest in books of photographs by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and set me on an evolving path.

I used the Nikkormat as a photographer and Editor-in-Chief of our weekly paper at the Taft School and again at Northwestern University’s newspaper. My Nikkormat was in hand during six years in Alaska, including three years in Gustavus at the mouth of Glacier Bay National Park where I basked in views of icy straits and was lucky enough to have a sweet little dark room. My prized camera also accompanied me for three years flying out of Skagway with Skagway Air Service.

When I wasn’t on shooting assignments, I tried to capture “fine art” images focusing on people and street scenes as well as the spectacular landscapes of southeast Alaska and Virginia. I received no formal training until much later when I took several digital photography classes at UVA followed by workshops with photographer Harold Ross. Until then, I relied instead on Ansel Adams’ The Camera, The Negative and The Print.

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Still Life with Calipers

 

 

My Nikkormat was a rugged, dependable friend for a long time. It was hard to put it down when digital technology began emerging. My first camera still sits on a shelf where I see it every day.

When my wife gave me my first digital camera – a Nikon D40 – I buried it on another shelf. Digital wasn’t real photography, after all. But constant chiding from a photographer friend to embrace and learn the new technology, finally wore me down. I never looked back. These days I shoot with a Nikon D750 full-frame camera, and a Fujifilm X100S a surprisingly powerful little camera.

 

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Temperature, Pressure,Time

 

Despite some 30 years with my Nikkormat, I didn’t really develop a sense of intention or satisfaction. Something was missing. Over the past year, I’ve discovered what was missing – light.

I’d spent most of my photographic life chasing beautiful landscapes, compelling subjects and strong compositions. But without full attention to light, there was nothing. Now I look for light; I let the light show me what it will. I find my subjects often take me by surprise. Now more of my images are still lifes, often combining objects that have little relationship until they are illuminated to tell a different story. I try to create images that suggest a mood, or another other life beyond the objects themselves.

 

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Bench Vise

 

I’m also trying to strip down my images so they are much simpler. My goal is to find character in increasingly ‘boring’ subjects and mundane landscapes, to appreciate beauty in ordinary things.If an image needs an explanation, it isn’t doing its job.

 

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Still Life and Egg

 

My recent still life images are assembled from a growing collection of found/scavenged/discarded junk…old airplane parts, broken machinery bits and pieces, antique laboratory equipment, shop tools, and random objects from around my house and yard. I stage various items on a basement table, looking at them for a scene that hints at a mood, a purpose, another place, tension, calm….Often over a period of days, I’ll swap or move things around until the setup feels like it has something to say.

I shoot these scenes in total darkness. I set my camera for long exposures and illuminate each item with a variety of lighting sources – mostly different sized flashlights. Each object has a role in the image and gets its     own particular illumination.The capture process takes anywhere from one to several hours, depending on how complicated the scene. It results in many separate exposures, sometimes hundreds. Most exposures are discarded; the final image often comprises 20 – 50 separate captures. What I love about this process is that I am really building the final image from a pile of smaller individual components.

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Bunker Door, Greenbrier, West Virginia

 

 

 

Each image is really a merged stack of images, because I am taking one photo of each different element in the scene, and that requires a lot of blending and combining in Photoshop. I am not combining things that were not there. I am just photographing them one at a time and then putting them together, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.

There is usually relatively little manipulation of color, contrast and saturation apart from adjusting exposure and white balance to make all the individual pieces match each other. The depth of color, texture, and richness of the image stems from the lighting of the object in each of the original captures. If this is done correctly, very little manipulation is needed later.

 

 

 

Striving to be a professional photographer, I believe a professional successfully creates images with intention. He can visualize the final image that he wants to create from a scene and he has the technical skill to capture and develop the scene.

I still admire Ansel Adams for his vision, his technical prowess, his dedication to the craft as well as his embrace of the constant technological progress that has always driven photography forward. I’ve also been profoundly affected by John Hulbert, a UVA photography instructor who pushed me to understand and master my camera. And Harold Ross, a photographer of light-painted imagery, literally showed me the light.

 

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Power Plant

 

Ayres’ first solo exhibit will be shown at the University of Virginia Medical Center from July 8 to September 2. The opening reception will be held from 3:30-5 p.m., July 22nd at the Medical Center. To see more of Ayres’ work go to https://faxayres.smugmug.com


Fax Ayres
A native of Greenwich, Ct., Ayres was graduated from UVA’s Darden Graduate School of Business and worked as an investment manager in New York. He moved to Charlottesville in 2000 to become CFO at Monticello. A commercial pilot, Ayres enjoys flying, his cameras on the ready, always along for the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of the Dead by Caleb N. Humphreys

The view from the bus station was disappointing. All I could see was the traffic on Calliope. That, and the bottom of the Causeway, all concrete and metal, darkened by decades of weather and exhaust. The fall air was saturated with car fumes and diesel: a smell that always gave me a headache. greyhound 16073046886_7fc3b7574b_m

I sat, as patiently as I could, on a metal bench that was peppered with rust and dried bird shit. I waited and hoped that Mary remembered I was coming. Eventually, I saw her working her way towards me, weaving between the parked cars and people. She looked different than I remembered, but I didn’t know how.

“It’s been a long time,” Mary said in place of a greeting.

“Only two years.”

“Two years is a long time.”

She led me to her car and I struggled with what to say. I tossed my bag into the back and settled myself into the passenger seat.

“Where do you want to go?” she asked, turning the key in the ignition.

“Let’s go see Kaylee.”

She seemed surprised, but checked her watch anyway. “We have some time to kill before it opens.”

“Fine. Can we just go for a drive? I’ve been in Minneapolis for too long, I want to see the sights.”

Mary eased the car into the traffic and merged her way onto I-10.

I could tell that she was mad at me. I wondered if her anger would ever dull. Still, she had come, and that had to mean something.

She steered towards the heart of the city. Not downtown with its few squat skyscrapers that looked like dull gray tombstones from a distance, but to the real heart of New Orleans.

french quarter cemetary tour 24734083303_004b783fda_zWe crossed the river. Tugboats and barges were sprinkled on the green-brown water of the Mississippi like so many fallen leaves.

Everything was different and new, or old and dirty. Billboards lined the highway, announcing shops and restaurants that had reopened. Harrah’s shouted its 24-hour gambling, the lotto jackpot had reached a hundred million dollars, and strip clubs were offering all-you-could-eat crawfish. Signs everywhere proclaimed love for the Saints.

But for every inhabited building, more were closed, their windows and doors boarded up with sheets of graying plywood. Last messages, like epitaphs, were spray-painted on the weathered boards. Signs of the times, some were warnings to looters and others were messages of hope and rebirth. Tattered blue tarps covered gashes on roofs like haphazard patches. Even from the highway I could see the Katrina tattoos on houses that marked the number of bodies rescue teams had found inside.

Shopping mall parking lots were filled with dumpsters pockmarked with rust, instead of cars. Entire neighborhoods that I remembered from before were gone, only weed-filled lots and concrete slabs were left behind. It hurt to remember the things that were no longer there.

I looked at Mary.

The city was in ruins, but she didn’t seem to notice. She just drove; her gaze never left the road.

Although I couldn’t see Lower 9 from I-10, I’d seen the news: hundreds of house trailers arranged like a potter’s field. Another section of the city, the Musician’s Village, was filled with cookie-cutter houses painted a variety of gaudy colors. Sad jazz music leaked out of that neighborhood.

post katrina 20286178892_d2f75870c1_z“So, you were fired?” Mary asked.

“Last week. They didn’t even give me severance.” I had been in Minnesota for a marketing position, finally putting my degree to use. With the economy, they had to cut back and the new hires were the first to go.

“I’m sorry. I know how much you wanted that to work out.”

“Thanks. But we both know that I wasn’t there for the job.”

The Superdome loomed in front of the clustered skyline, its landscape was startling. Different shades of concrete had taken the place of the once beautiful greenery that had been uprooted by the storm.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have come back,” I said as we drifted by the Dome. I hoped that she’d respond; maybe tell me that she was glad that I had returned, that this is where I belonged. Instead, Mary slowed the car and took the ramp to the French Quarter.

“It doesn’t even look like this area was touched.”

“It wasn’t. Not really. A few bars even stayed open the entire time.”

“How could some people just sit around and drink while everything they cared about was taken away?”

This question drew a sideways glance that I ignored as best I could.

We parked off Decauter and walked towards the Square. Mule-drawn carriages mixed with the traffic. The clopping of hooves resonated on the asphalt and blended with the sporadic honking of car horns. I could even hear the whistling of the Natchez steamboat coming from somewhere on the river. Street musicians and performers lined the fence that surrounded the Square. Fortune tellers, palm readers, and crystal ball gazers milled around, begging to predict our futures.

The scent of roux, chicory, fried dough, seafood, and the river combined with dozens of other smells to create the Quarter’s own decadent incense. I inhaled again and again. The fragrance was overwhelming and filled me with a mixture of longing and remorse and a hundred other emotions.

The Saint Louis Cathedral overlooked Jackson Square and the river beyond. Its spires lanced the sky – an image from another time.Cathedral

“Did you know that the statue behind the cathedral was damaged?” Mary asked as we passed the bronze of Andrew Jackson sitting on his horse.

“No.”

We walked down Pirates Alley, careful not to bump into each other on the cobblestoned path wedged between the cathedral and the old city hall. I looked through the bars of the wrought-iron gate into the garden, but I couldn’t see anything wrong with the statue. Jesus’s arms were spread wide in welcome, as if forever awaiting an embrace from the city.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“A thumb and finger were snapped off. The bishop said that it was symbolic of Jesus turning away the storm, preventing Katrina from completely destroying the city.”

I looked again and saw that the same fingers that had rubbed spit and dirt into a blind man’s eyes to restore his sight were gone. I wondered out loud why the statue hadn’t been repaired.

“I guess they wanted to leave it as a reminder.”

“As if there aren’t enough already.”

Still, I kept thinking about that image. About the fingers of Jesus flicking away the storm and being torn off in exchange. About how some things could even hurt God.

On the edge of the Quarter, the crowd of tourists thinned and the buildings transitioned from two-stories to camelbacks: shotgun-style houses with humps of a second level.

One house’s front porch was sagging in, its roof collapsed, and its beige paint peeling off like dead skin. Dirty teeth of glass grinned from windows. One side of the house had been ripped away, revealing rotten two-by-fours that looked like splotchy, diseased bones. At this sight, I wondered what had become of our old house. If it was like this or if it had been bulldozed like so many others. All of those memories gone.

Kaylee loved that house. Her window had looked out on a towering live oak: a tree that was the inspiration of many of her art projects. Her walls were covered with drawings; most of them doodles of twisting branches and the small house behind it. I still had one of Kaylee’s kindergarten creations. A stick figure trio labeled “Daddy, Mommy, and Me” on red construction paper. The figures of daddy and mommy were holding hands. Kaylee’s self-depiction was of a little girl with long Crayola-black hair, bright green eyes, and a great big smile. And there, in the background, was the live-oak.

The remains of Storyville, the city’s original red-light district, surrounded the cemetery like a ring of mourners at a funeral. Empty flophouses were waiting to be demolished, having been abandoned long before the storm. Even the homeless had abandoned Storyville. There was something unsettling about having a graveyard as the heart of a community.

Still, before Katrina and before Kaylee got sick, we came to the cemetery every weekend. We’d walk the same path that Mary and I had taken, soak up the smells, sounds, and sights of our city. Then, we’d get some po-boys and picnic in the cemetery. Mary and I would sit on a bench while Kaylee ran around and explored.

Seashells poked out of the surface of the brown wall that enclosed the cemetery. The lower half of the wall was a dirty brown, where a blurry line from the floodwaters had risen and leveled off. Next to the gate was the bronze sign, tarnished and dark, that I always stopped to read.

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I pushed open the gate and stepped down into the city of the dead. Mary dropped a wrinkled bill into the locked collection box and followed. I tried to remember if she had always done that, but I couldn’t.

Aboveground vaults and distant mausoleums rose like miniature temples. Long shadows stretched from the vaults toward the entrance.

Each vault was like an oven. A body would be interred and, within a few months, the Louisiana heat would bake the corpse, drying it up until only the bones were left. The bones were pushed to the back to make room for the next body. In this way, an entire lineage could share the same tomb.

The vault of Paul Morphy and his descendants was marked by dozens of little chess pieces. His vault was a miniature battlefield. The faceplate was engraved with “The Pride and Sorrow of New Orleans.”

Mary and I used to sit here and guess what that inscription meant while Kaylee played with the chess pieces, pretending that they were little ponies and princesses, instead of knights and pawns. We agreed that he must have been some chess prodigy but that he gave up playing so he could spend more time with his true love.

Eventually, driven by curiosity, we looked him up. He was widely regarded as the best chess player in the world before he turned twenty. He retired from the game when he was twenty-two because it was too easy for him. Despite the city begging him to keep playing, he never played competitively again. He died of a heart attack twenty-five years later, barely remembered.

We liked our version better. I wondered if Mary remembered it.

We passed the tomb of Marie Laveau, the first voodoo queen of New Orleans. Her grave was marked with graffiti, while birthstones, seashells, tarot cards, flowers, gris-gris bags, coins, a bottle of Abita beer, and fly-covered Cajun food lined the perimeter of the vault.

The first time we brought Kaylee to the cemetery, we had to pry these keepsakes from her fingers. She didn’t understand that they weren’t for her. They were gifts from the people of New Orleans. The gifts, Mary explained to our daughter, were given in thanks for answered prayers.

“I can’t believe people leave stuff here,” I said.

Mary’s eyes involuntarily looked at the bottle of Abita beer.

“Sometimes prayers are answered.”

I got the distinct impression that she had left the beer there for me. That her prayers were for me. Abita used to be my favorite.

The pathways twisted and turned around the closely packed vaults. Loose pieces of marble and brick littered the ground like plastic cups and beer cans on Bourbon Street. The rubble increased the closer we got to the middle of the cemetery. Entire parishes of the cemetery were swamp-like with deep, standing water and black mud that smelled like decay.

“Why is it like this?” I asked, astounded by the disrepair. “It didn’t used to be like this.”

“I guess nobody cares anymore.”

Mary led the way through the maze-like graveyard with ease. It was another sign that she visited often. I felt a pang of guilt. It was the first time I had been back since the funeral.

The path turned and opened. A live oak tree was surrounded by tall, crumbling tombs.

old tree in cemetey“I love this tree,” Mary said. “It’s my favorite part of the city now.”

“Why?”

She didn’t speak for a second. Finally, she answered, “It reminds me that even something broken can be beautiful.”

Several branches were missing, torn off like the fingers of Jesus, leaving jagged amputations behind. A black lightning burn marred the wide, ancient trunk. Dead limbs and wood chips covered the ground like mulch.

Drooping, low-hanging branches almost touched the ground before they arched back up over the tombs. Roots clung to the brick and marble like grasping fingers. The twisting branches created a canopy of speckled light. Spanish moss hung from the limbs like loose strands of gray-green hair. It was both beautiful and sad. The broken tree clung to life so hard in the middle of a place of death.

The tree was part of the reason Kaylee had loved this place so much. Back then, it was stately, and its curving boughs practically begged to be climbed.

We moved on, ducking branches.

The first mausoleum was a towering structure built hundreds of years ago for the city’s poor. In front of the granite crypt stood a faceless statue, guarding the weary and dejected in death. An ornate wrought-iron fence topped with rusted crosses guarded the building filled with the remains of the victims from the many plagues that had ravaged the city: cholera, typhoid, diphtheria, malaria, smallpox, Bubonic plague, and yellow fever.

“New Orleans has been through so much,” I said.

“We always get through it though. We can always make things better if we try.”

Her comment was for me.

When Kaylee got sick, I checked out. Left. Not just New Orleans, but my family. I couldn’t handle it. Mary had never forgiven me.

We stood in silence before a large vault for the children’s hospital. The vault had housed our daughter but I knew that her body wasn’t there anymore. Not really. Her body was gone, cremated by the New Orleans heat. Some other father’s daughter was in there now.

For a moment, there was peace: my breathing, Mary’s breathing, and the quiet of the dead. I was almost tempted to reach out and hold her hand. The silence rose, threatening to overtake us, and then a car horn broke in.

“Do you want to get a drink?” she asked.

“I don’t drink anymore.”

On the way out, I noticed an empty space where yellow flowering weeds covered the grass. I took some comfort that there was still room in the graveyard.


Caleb N. Humphreys
Caleb Humphreys has lived all over the United States but feels most connected to Louisiana where his family has deep roots. A graduate of Troy University and Texas Tech University, he lives in Lubbock, Texas and teaches at South Plains College. This is his first publication.

Date Night by Nicholas A. White

I haven’t seen Dave this excited in months, since before our son left for college.

“We’ll see a compressed version of Arnold’s life,” he says, sprinkling his fingers like falling fireworks. “Can you imagine? You’ll love it. It’ll be like one of our movie dates, but better.”

home theater 17330788968_7d77662c46_z“Well, okay,” I say. “I guess we can go.”

“It sucks for Arnold having leukemia and all,” Dave says, checking his phone. “But there’s nothing we can do, you know?”

We first learned about the Deathwatching app while dropping our son off at his dorm back in August. It provides a notification when someone within a fifty-mile radius is about to die. And though the corresponding glasses aren’t cheap, our son says they’re worth the money, since they allow you to see people’s lives flashing before their eyes during their final moments.

Dave bought two pairs of glasses on his way home from work today. He hands me one now while standing in the kitchen. They’re bright orange, almost neon, with purple circles in the middle.

“How do they work?” I ask.

Dave shrugs. “Something to do with those purple circles. They’ll synchronize our vision with Arnold’s memories. Cool, huh?”

3d movie goersHe’s always loved the gimmicks at the movie theater. Ten years ago it was the 3D movies with the special glasses; then the 4D movies with the nose-masks for smell; then the 5D movies with the special tongue-implants for taste. I’m old-fashioned and enjoy a traditional movie with no additional contraptions necessary, so if we go to a 3 or 4 or 5D movie, Dave will buy me popcorn. That’s our trade-off, since he doesn’t like popcorn anymore, doesn’t like the way the kernels stick between the crowns of his teeth.

Tonight, while I get my coat, he microwaves a bag and shakes it, mixing the butter and salt for me. Across the street, the absence of cars makes me wonder about Arnold’s family. His kids live out of town, but that’s not much of an excuse for not caring after their dying father. They should be here.

***

I eat when I’m nervous, and I’ve eaten half the bag of popcorn by the time we reach Arnold’s driveway. It’s like Halloween there, some people approaching the house solemnly, others laughing. I can’t see their faces in the dark, but a few people have gathered on the front porch and positioned their lawn chairs near the windows. It’s in bad taste, I think, especially since Arnold probably has no idea what’s going on. He’s a generation older than me and Dave, and I’m not sure he even owns a cell phone. He’s probably never heard of Deathwatching.

We circle around back, nodding at people we don’t recognize. Dave cleans the dirt from a fallen tree on the edge of the woods and spreads a blanket over our laps. It’s quiet and secluded here, like a private screening. The living room blinds are down, but there’s a six-inch gap at the bottom, and it’s more than enough to see Arnold, who’s watching TV in his recliner. He’s eating popcorn, too. Dave assures me the six-inch gap will be sufficient to witness the flash, but I’m lost thinking about Arnold’s ex-wife who moved away years ago, and his kids who live either in Cincinnati or San Diego, I can’t remember where. Dave might know. Arnold told us at a Christmas party we hosted the year his wife left.

“These are good seats,” I say.

Dave’s warmth under the blanket stirs something in me. We’re still lovers, but now that we’re empty-nesters, we’re different lovers together, like we’re trying to find ourselves again.

“If we’re lucky, we’ll see everything,” he says. “First kiss, first love, first job, first fight, first child, all of it. Honestly, I’ve heard it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.”

He senses that something’s wrong after I don’t say anything, and he settles my nerves by licking the butter from my fingertips, his saliva glistening on my skin in the moonlight.

“How will we know it’s happening?” I ask. “Will his memories project on the TV or something?”

Footsteps approach from the woods behind us and I reach for Dave’s arm, almost spilling the popcorn. His body is still solid and comforting, though getting older. I relax after seeing a family of deer emerging in the moonlight. The mama gathers her two babies behind her. She looks exhausted, and I remember those days of constant nurturing and protection, never able to rest, not even while sleeping.

“Look, Dave,” I say. “Look how close they are.”

There’s a sparkle in the mama’s eyes, as if she’s trying to communicate with me, but I can’t find meaning in her stare, and I wait for something more. Tell me what to do, I think. Tell me where to go. Dave stands with one hand reaching forward, and the deer, though skeptical, don’t run. But as soon as his phone rings in his pocket, they spook deeper in the woods, and the magic of the moment fades.

“Thirty seconds until show time,” Dave says, showing me the countdown on his phone.

I almost laugh at how ridiculous he looks, now wearing those glasses that cover half of his face, but there’s a severity to the moment that hinders a laugh, and I reach in my purse for my glasses. It occurs to me we’re about to witness someone passing from the world, and there’s an overwhelming atmosphere of excitement—I can sense the weight of it in the air—like undressing a lover for the first time, or counting the seconds before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. Though we can’t see our neighbors’ faces, I know everybody else is sharing the feeling, too.

Through our glasses, we see the bowl of popcorn spill from Arnold’s lap onto the recliner. Dave checks the time. Thirteen seconds. Twelve. Eleven. Arnold’s arm hangs limp over the armrest. His legs jolt twice. Seven. Six. Five. I glimpse Dave’s excitement, and it’s the same excitement from a year ago while watching our son’s baseball games; and I realize this moment, for some reason, is more important to us than even a state championship. Three. Two. One.

fireworks19254208458_8732095315_mThe darkness comes alive, and for a few seconds we see everything: an approaching thunderstorm when Arnold was seven years old—home alone for the first time—and the lightning bolt that scared him into a closet; the blossoming of his first real friendship with a girl from class who shared his enthusiasm for collecting worms from underneath overturned logs in the woods; a failed first kiss, followed by hours of practicing on the shower wall; the campus bar he preferred over the white-brick library in college; his first real job at an engineering office, where the windows overlooked an asphalt parking lot; the joy from his wife’s first pregnancy, followed by the anxiety of the second; the years of watching his children growing up, and growing away; his distant grandkids whose names he’d review before Thanksgiving dinners; his wife setting the breakfast table for the last time, explaining she’d met someone else; the following mornings alone, staring at his cup of black coffee; the neighborhood Christmas party in our living room that meant more to him than any of us imagined.

For a few seconds we’re there with him, sharing in his pain and beauty and misery and love. We’re left breathless after it ends, after the lights go dark again.

I replay each scene in my mind, still awed.

Dave leans against me, and I settle my head on his shoulder. Part of me wants to stay like this for the rest of the night, but I know tomorrow Arnold’s distant family will fill his empty house. The grandkids will crawl on the recliner as if nothing happened there, and their parents will peel them away, horrified. Cars will overflow from the driveway onto the lawn. Relatives will mourn, but I’ll judge their sincerity from behind my window for not being there sooner. And I’ll judge all of us, his neighbors, for finding enjoyment while watching him die. But our enjoyment honored his life and memories, and after weeks of reflection, I won’t be able to think of anything more meaningful we could’ve done.

moon 26466809642_75c19ee294_m“Anna,” Dave says, removing my glasses and handing them to me.

We walk through the woods toward our bedroom, careful to avoid sticks and leaves, not wanting to disturb the moment. And the sky rewards us with the perfect ending to our night: The moon brightens like a snow globe someone’s shaken, and we pause to admire it, watching as the gray pockmarks on the surface disappear all at once, none of them able to outlast the intensity of the glimmering light.


Nicholas A. White
Nicholas A. White lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. His stories appear in Permafrost Magazine, Night Train, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. Find him at nicholasawhite.com.

Links of Ladder by Frederick Wilbur

Links of Ladder

 

Higher than a hired man’s head,
a chain bubbles from the tree’s heart
and falling thirteen links, dares
a boy’s reaching, his pretending—
its original purpose unknown.
It is not a hanging tree or surveyor’s
witness, but a yard-oak to dream under.
The chain was left there in a fork
by heart attack or by forgotten convenience,
has provoked the grain to snarl
and restless, has rubbed a triangle,
an arrow, in the gray bark. He sees
the ladder he must climb to know
how chance and choice can be useful.

 

After the Funeral

 

Hands high on the steering wheel, white headlights
tunnel through darkness like moles looking for home.
We drive the unfamiliar, swerving for eyeshine
the way people dodge pauses in conversation.

His friends’ faces were ivory in formal black,
with no teasing trace of color, no news, no
humorous tale that would bring him back to us.
His girlfriend was red-faced, jealous of their simplicity.

My wife and I draw words from the fifty mile silence,
place them between us on the dashboard
and we build a small biography there, vulnerable,
with no shock value to its implications.

Interrogative miles answer nothing,
excuses collapse like bottom land
chewed away by flood waters.
Our son, like promises for old age, is gone,

his poems forever unfinished, lost friends
lost, the knock unopened. It will be years
we write valedictions in cursive,
the black flow will relieve the ache of white pages,

like the escape route the Navajo
weave into their blankets for good measure.


Rodney Torrenson
Frederick Wilbur was brought up, and still lives in, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, so he relies on imagery derived from the natural landscape to explore human relationships. He has been an architectural woodcarver for over 35 years and has written numerous articles and three books on the subject. His poetry has appeared in Shenandoah, Green Mountains Review, The Lyric, The South Carolina Review, Southern Poetry Review, New Virginia Review, and Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review.

The Paperboy Sees No Wonder in It… by Rodney Torreson

The Paperboy Sees No Wonder in It—
the Snow Giving off the Only Light at 6 AM

 

The boy could have lived forever
sliding down a hill, after watching cartoons.
Now the only cartoon is himself falling
through drifts to the corner,
where he’s one bundle binding
himself to others by snapping open
their plastic straps and sitting
among the papers. He rolls them
into funnels, slips them into plastic sheaths,
while the first house tugs at him,
and he gets up, his steps a kind of
wandering from house to house,
each one rounded at the corners
and snow whipping up into snarls.

The trees in the yards are all spine
and hardier than he,
but then he turns smug,
seeing the trees now as mere skeletons,
just as a truck pulls up,
and a tall, lean milkman
steps from the door,
each big expanse of hands gripping
three bottles of milk,
unflustered and streamlined,
adding more white to winter,
and the boy adds to it as well,
by kicking snow up
with his boots and snarling back,
and with aplomb dropping papers on porches,
on front steps and in mailboxes,
though this morning
he’d rather see the snow, like the milk sees it,
through windows of a house—
and he laughs—an all glass house.

 

On a Blustery November Morning
in Front of His Parents’ Hardware Store

 

a man whose mouth
has been open in awe for over forty years,
a void filled by a cigar
unlit and blindly probing.
His good looks lack
all of the trimmings.
I’m in my 40s, too,
and with ragged steps attempt
to slip past him,
but the wind robs me of my cap;
I dance back for it,
and when I spin around, he’s before me
with his lopsided grin,
“Uhhg,” he motions, stirring
the air with his unlit stogy.
I relax into his will,
as he unbuttons the top button
of my coat,
then clutches
the collar with shaky fists,
lets go with one fist
as he fumbles into his
pocket for a lighter
and pats it into my palm.
Grasping the button side
with one hand, the hole side
with the other,
he draws me close like he
will talk tough.
Instead, when I flick
his cigar tip until it lights,
there is in the space
between us
the stillness of a church,
where no harsh wind whips or spins.


Rodney Torrenson
Rodney Torreson’s most recent book, a chapbook entitled The Secrets of Fieldwork, was published by Finishingline Press in 2010. His poems have recently been accepted for publication in Tar River Poetry, Spillway, and Common Ground Review.

The Rat Baiter and Me

by Laura Marello

Three years ago I phoned Specialty Exterminators in Lynchburg. My side yard, viewed from my screened porch, was starting to look like a cheap horror movie: rats, mice, and baby mice, running from my yard into the neighbors’ yard and back.

Specialty Exterminators sent the rat baiter: an appropriately slim, tanned, wrinkled, grizzled–but in a handsome sort of way–sixty-something in a uniform much like a gas station attendant or a tow truck driver, park ranger, or sheriff would wear. As it turned out, I needed all five, and more.

cats-being-friends-with-mice-3

The Rat Baiter said that the rats and mice must have been flushed from the recently replaced sewers a block away on Boonsboro Road, and seeking new homes. He set out big, black-plastic triangles with bricks and poison food inside, and said the rats would be gone in two days. He told me no other animals were at risk, and to keep all pet food in sealed plastic or glass containers in my refrigerator when not in use.

The Rat Baiter was right: the rats were gone in two days, the squirrels stole the smaller bait containers and fled up trees with them, but did not die, and I went back to the normal routine of home ownership: roof repair, sewer repair, kitchen cabinet repair, wall and ceiling repair, and maxing out credit cards.

Three years later, I was looking out my sunroom window, enjoying the weeds, the planting beds where flowers wouldn’t grow, the trellises where potato vines crowded out the roses, the wild violets, and the angry blue jays bobbing their heads and shoulders at each other and chasing off other birds. I was looking for my chipmunk, which I like despite the fact my massage therapist says they carry deadly ticks, and the snowshoe hare whom I like despite the fact that she pulls up large swaths of grass to make herself a cozy nest by the brick sunroom support beam. Then I saw it: a squirrel with a hairless tail? No: a rat. The rats were back.

I called the Rat Baiter. He said, “Are you sure?” The new next-door neighbor told his son in confidence (who of course told me) that he thought it was a gopher, not a rat (as if I couldn’t tell the difference). No, the three giant gophers (bigger than a small dog), live across the street at the neighbor’s house, where Animal Control set traps, caught two of them, and carted them away. My neighbor across the street has had her share of heartache: a roof fire set by the roofers; three police men firing twenty rounds at 3 A.M. to kill a wounded raccoon; the woman who was driving drunk, hit a deer and a B.M.W. who then parked her car, and came to sit on my neighbor’s porch while the ambulance and firemen figured out what to do. My neighbor keeps saying she should declare her yard a wildlife sanctuary.

The Rat Baiter wanted to come at 8 a.m., but I convinced him to wait until 10 a.m. When he arrived we reminisced about the village of rats and mice I had in my yard two years before. Then I showed him where we’d left the black plastic rat poison boxes two years ago. He opened the boxes, and affixed skewers of red cylinders of rat poison into the boxes, shut them. I tried to tell him the neighbor’s rat vs. groundhog story, but he said he was laughing too hard and couldn’t write out my bill, so I stopped. He said I could pay right away, but I explained the cat vet was coming for the cats’ annual check-ups and to pay for that, I’d have to wait a week, until payday, to afford the rat poison.

 

Marello

Laura Marello has written eleven books. Guernica Editions published Laura Marello’s second novel Tenants of the Hotel Biron in 2012 and her first novel Claiming Kin in 2010. Her third novel, Maniac Drifter, is forthcoming with Guernica in 2016. Tailwinds Press published Marello’sThe Gender of Inanimate Objects and Other Stories in 2015; it is shorlisted for the Saroyan Prize. Balzac Robe, chapbook forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, June 25th.

She has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Wallace E. Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, and a Fine Arts Work Center Provincetown Fellowship. She has benefited from residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, Millay, Montalvo and Djerassi and was the 2nd Finalist in 2016 New Women’s Voices Award.

 

The Consternations of Traveling South with Paul Theroux

A few years back I took a trip to Texas with Bill Clinton. It was not a fun trip. Clinton is pathologically self-referential and by the time he’d repeated the phrase, “Let me tell you one more clever thing I said when I did something bad,” for the eleventy-twelfth time, I was ready to leave him by the side of the road in Alabama.

William Eggleston, Untitled, copyrighted
William Eggleston, Untitled, copyrighted

I sputtered at the car CD player (which is where books-on-tape lived before they became books-on-Audible…did I mention Clinton was on the CD and not in the car?), “I don’t care if the name of your book IS My Life (it was). I’m sick of your neediness, sick of your excuses, and I don’t want you in the car with me. You’re a smart guy. I get it. I’d love to hear you talk more about Middle East policy, politics, economic development. That’s all great stuff. But quit whining!” I eventually forgave him and let the CD keep running. Kind of like America did with his presidency. But, man, that was a painful 25 hours across the South!

Which brings me to Paul Theroux and his travel book, Deep South – one more long trip across a land I love to travel with one more companion I was fixing to pitch out of the car. Theroux played in my car off and on for six months. A noted travel writer, he begins his book by saying, in effect, “Hey, there’s nowhere else for me to go, so I guess I’ll go to the South.”

R44 Eggleston, Untitled, blue car on suburban street 002
Eggleston, Untitled, blue car, copyrighted

 

Perhaps it’s just my own defensiveness as a progressive Southerner that saw condescension in that statement (and many others). Theroux owns his unabashed New England perspective and writes with a blunt honesty that could be virtuous, but it didn’t keep me from thinking on many occasions that I should be reaching for his carpetbag to send him home.


William Eggleston, copyrighted
William Eggleston, copyrighted

Why did I stick with him? Well, he traveled back roads to the same sort of places I’ve haunted and I kept hoping I’d find some insight or common ground. I mean, the man went to Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, Mississippi, for heaven’s sake! That would have rated a major chapter for me, but he lets it go with a cursory glance.

His other sins? Theroux denigrates every Southern writer except Clinton Portis (True Grit). He’s scathing on the Gothic writers and thinks Faulkner falls short. Plus, he believes that Southerners don’t read. He repeats himself. (He really needs an editor). He goes to gun shows… frequently…even after he’s decided they’re thin gruel for entertainment or commentary. And he says, multiple times, that the whole region reminds him of Africa. Plus, he repeats himself.

I know. I know. I could commend his attention to race issues or creative poverty initiatives. I’m not being fair. But, hey, he started it!

If I’m hot and bothered by Theroux, perhaps it is because I believe that the South deserves so much better – not only from travel writers, but from its own politicians, its churches, and, yes, even its writers. There is art and spirit to be wrung from this land and its history, and country songs that amount to a list of pick-up trucks, barefoot women, and fishing poles don’t qualify. All of which means that maybe I’m flustered with Paul because he reminds me that I’ve got work to do.

[My thanks to my colleagues in the 2016 Better World Reading Challenge who give me an excuse to write about books!]

Deep South
by Paul Theroux
Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
464 pages

unnamedAlex Joyner is a writer and pastor on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. His most recent book is A Space for Peace in the Holy Land [Englewood Review, 2014], which, as he writes this he realizes, is kind of a travel book, too, that is probably being trashed by Israeli and Palestinian reviewers who feel he has hopelessly mischaracterized the region.

Photos by William Eggleston

Gather Around the Light

Calling all fans of Streetlight and contributors past and present.

If you are a fan of Streetlight or if you have ever had a story, poem, or piece of art published in Streetlight (both print or on-line versions) join Streetlight Lamplighter’s social network and forum and become a lamplighter.


 
I am a lamplighter.

Lamplighters unite! This call goes out to all artists and writers. When the nice people at SL agreed to let me author this post, they expected a piece exalting the virtues of an art community. They won’t be disappointed. But there is a twist.

cave 23429306029_648e5a1903_zI’m a cave dweller happiest in front of my laptop. Whether, like me, you avert your eyes awkwardly in the company of anyone not named Scrivener or Gesso, or know everyone in Manhattan by name, this goes to you. As long as you can navigate your way to Streetlight Magazine. Come, join us. We flicker separately; together, we will make light.

When God created the Internet, he made sure to start more interest groups, bulletin boards and fora than there are selfie sticks in Times Square. Our tower of Babel, it makes having another’s ear easy. But the heart? Next to impossible.

At the risk of adding to the chaos, we will create another forum. We will call it the Lamplighter. To join, one must arrive at the proper Streetlight Magazine link ready to share enthusiasm, knowledge and good will. We hope to find a common tongue in our shared experiences and continue to grow both in size and the closeness of our bonds. Give it a chance. What have you got to lose?lamplighter 3281459084_62be3c8ce1_z

Sign up to be a Lamplighter. http://streetlightmag.com/register/

Peace.

If you’re wondering what to do after you register, here are some suggestions:

  • Let us know about your website or blog; put a link in your profile description.
  • Tell the Streetlight community if you’ve had your writing or art appear on our website (which issue? title?)
  • Fill out your profile and upload a fun profile pic.
  • Join the Lamplighter group and start a topic in the forum.

Karol Lagodzki left Poland in his late teens and has called the United States home for over two decades. His fascination with the “why” of human behavior led him to study sociology and psychology. He’s a self-taught inventor and has several mechanical and electronic patents. In his writing, he draws heavily on personal experiences and training. He has recently finished a novel about an errant prophet set in ancient Canaan, Anatolia and Egypt, and is at work on a book about the human genome project taken a step too far. You can follow him at www.klagodzki.com.

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